Directed by James Mangold and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, Ford v Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) is the story of about a team of British and American engineers and designers who team up to help Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca to design the Ford GT40 in an upcoming race in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race against the much revered racing team led by Ferrari. The film is a dramatization of the events leading to the 1966 Le Mans race where an American designer asks a British driver to be part of this team as they also deal with various issues along the way. Starring Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, and Ray McKinnon. Ford v Ferrari is a gripping and exhilarating film from James Mangold.
Set in the early 1960s, the film revolves around Ford who found themselves struggling with low sales as well as losing the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France to the Italian car manufacturer Ferrari where Ford’s vice president Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) turns to a designer and a hot-headed British driver for help in the upcoming 1966 race. It’s a film that explores these two men who agree to help for the Ford motor company not only to try and defeat Ferrari but also prove what a car can do. The film’s screenplay takes place largely in the mid-1960s where sports car designer and racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) who won Le Mans back in 1959 but is forced to retire due to his heart condition as he is approached by Iacocca to create a car that can compete against Ferrari who had been dominating Le Mans for years. Shelby agrees to help but wants to bring in the British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to the fold despite the fact that he is hot-tempered yet knows more about cars than anyone else.
The film also showcased why this rivalry between Ford and Ferrari has intensified where the film has Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) trying to figure out what to do with Iacocca being the one man who has an understand of what Americans want as Ford’s company tried to buy Ferrari (Remo Girone) who felt insulted by their deal as he ends up choosing to make a deal with Fiat that at least gives Ferrari more control on what he could and participate in Le Mans. With Ford reluctantly giving Shelby and Miles the chance to create a car for Ford, Miles does the job so he can help his family as they’re going through debt as his wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe) are able to watch closely with the latter befriending Shelby and Shelby’s chief engineer Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon). The script also showcase the tension between Shelby and Miles though both are able to be on the same page with the latter focusing on improvements of the GT40 Mk II while the former tries to deal with Ford executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) who despises both Shelby and Miles.
James Mangold’s direction does have elements of style as it play into the world of the 1960s though it begins with Shelby being a racer and being able to finish it despite his growing heart condition. Shot largely on location in California with additional locations in Georgia, Louisiana, and bits of Le Mans in France, Mangold does use these locations not just as race tracks but to showcase a world where the auto industry is going through changing times as it play into what consumers want as they want the cars that James Bond wants to drive. Mangold’s usage of wide and medium shots do play into these locations including the California race tracks and the places where Shelby runs his company. There are also close-ups that do play into the character interaction including a scene where Mollie is angry about her husband returning to racing as she is driving the car ferociously in a way that even scares Miles. It is a moment that does play into some of the humanistic moments in Miles’ life as he is someone that does care for his family but knows more about cars and how they should be driven better than anyone.
Mangold also uses a lot of point-of-view shots of what it’s like inside a car when it’s going fast to nearly 218 miles per hour as it was the highest speed at the time and what it took for that car to be intact. The film’s second act is about these tests for the GT40 as well as Shelby’s war with Beebe who wants to play it safe as it leads to a race in Daytona where Miles succeeds with the Mk II that leads to Le Mans for the film’s third act. The Le Mans race is intense where it’s not about what is going on at the track but also what is happening behind the scenes with Beebe trying to assert his authority and what both Ford and Ferrari are watching as Miles is part of a team representing Ford going against racers representing Ferrari. There is a lot of drama on and off the track where Mangold manages to maintain that air of suspense that plays into Miles’ skill as a driver who is willing to push the limits of what a race car can do. Overall, Mangold crafts a mesmerizing and riveting film about two outsiders who help Ford create the ultimate race car against the brilliance of Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural lighting for many of the daytime exteriors with some lighting schemes for scenes at night along with low-key interior lighting for some scenes at night. Editors Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland, and Dirk Westervelt do amazing work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts doesn’t just capture the frenetic energy of the races but also has this rhythm that play into the excitement and terror of those races while the editing is also straightforward for the non-racing scenes. Production designer Francois Audouy, with set decorator Peter Lando and supervising art director Maya Shimoguchi, does excellent work with the look of Shelby’s home base, the Ford factory, Miles’ home, and the race stand at Le Mans. Costume designer Daniel Orlandi does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into the looks of the time that include some of the clothes that Mollie wears and the suits that the men wear in those times.
Special effects supervisors Mark R. Byers and Charles-Axel Vollard, with visual effects supervisors Olivier Dumont and Kiruba Nanthan, do brilliant work with the way cars crash as well as scenes involving the races as well as some visual effects to play into some of the landscape that does a bit more than just do set-dressing. Sound designer David Giammarco and sound editor Donald Sylvester do phenomenal work with the sound as it play into the way a car sounds and how tires sound when it’s on the ground as it’s being driven as the attention to detail in the sound work as it is a major highlight of the film. The film's music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders do superb work with the film’s music with its mixture of orchestral bombast and low-key electronics to play up the thrill of Le Mans while music supervisor Ted Caplan provides a fun soundtrack consisting of music of the times from acts and artists like James Burton, the Kingsmen, the Sonics, Nina Simone, Lucky Blondo, Buck Owens, the Byrds, Link Wray, the Shadows of Knight, the Sparkles, Billy Riley and His Little Green Men, and Les Baxter.
The casting by Ronna Kress is wonderful as it features some notable small roles from Joe Williamson as a chief engineer for Ford in Donald N. Frey, Corrado Invernizzi as Ferrari’s right-hand man Franco Gozzi, Jack McMullen as the mechanic Charlie Agapiou, JJ Feild as the famed British engineer Roy Lunn who works for Ford yet helps Shelby and Miles with what cars can do, and Remo Girone as Enzo Ferrari as the famed Italian sports car maker who is intent on creating the perfect car while having issues with the ways Americans do business. Josh Lucas’ performance as Ford executive Leo Beebe is good as it allows Lucas to be the smarmy douchebag that hates Shelby and Miles because they don’t fit in with what Ford should be. Noah Jupe is superb as Miles’ son Peter as kid who enjoys seeing his father race as well as having an interest in cars as he does serve as a rock of sorts for his father but also understands some things that helps cars work where he befriends Shelby and Remington.
Ray McKinnon is fantastic as Shelby’s engineer Phil Remington as a man that knows cars but also understands what can work and what can’t work where he often finds a solution to a problem. Tracy Letts is excellent as Henry Ford II as the CEO of Ford and the grandson of Henry Ford as a man trying to find out how to get Americans to buy his cars but also deal with the fact that times are changing where he is eager to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Jon Bernthal is brilliant as Lee Iacocca as the vice president of Ford who goes to Shelby for help as he understands what consumers want while trying to deal with the presence of Beebe whom he feels doesn’t understand change. Caitriona Balfe is amazing as Miles’ wife Mollie as a woman who understands her husband’s love and knowledge for cars though she isn’t happy about him returning to racing knowing he might do something dangerous as she does manage to hold her own.
Finally, there’s the duo of Christian Bale and Matt Damon in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby. Bale brings in that performance of a man who knows a lot about cars but is also hot-tempered and frustrated by people’s lack of respect for cars as he’s also an intense driver that is aware of what a car could do within its limitations. Damon is more reserved as a former racer who designs and sells sports cars as he is also aware of what needs to be done to beat Ford while having to deal with some of the business aspects including Beebe whom he despises. Bale and Damon together have this amazing rapport together as they not only showcase two men who have a love of cars but also know what it takes to win in the world in racing as they’re a big highlight of the film.
Ford v Ferrari is a tremendous film from James Mangold that features great leading performances from Christian Bale and Matt Damon. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, incredible sound work, and exhilarating music score, the film is definitely a rapturous film that explores the world of racing and what a group of outsiders try to do to compete with Ferrari and help Ford become important again during the 1960s. In the end, Ford v Ferrari is a spectacular film from James Mangold.
James Mangold Films: (Heavy) – (Cop Land) – (Girl, Interrupted) - (Kate & Leopold) – (Identity (2003 film)) – (Walk the Line) – 3:10 to Yuma (2007 film) - (Knight and Day) – The Wolverine - Logan - (Indiana Jones 5)
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